Tamil Nadu

The DMK-Congress tiff : What should Stalin do?

By A Shankar

On 16 December 2018, when Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi attended the DMK event to unveil the statue of former party patriarch M Karunanidhi, Stalin used the platform to endorse Rahul Gandhi for the Prime Minister post. He was the first ally to do so publicly.    

In the presence of Sonia Gandhi, Stalin said, “We will install a new Prime Minister in capital Delhi. We will build a new India. Welcome Rahul Gandhi, give the nation good governance. As the Son of Dr Kalaignar, I propose the candidature of Rahul Gandhi from Tamil Nadu.”

With leaders including Chandrababu Naidu, Pinarayi Vijayan, V Narayanasamy looking on, Stalin added, “I appeal to the respected leaders of all the parties on the dais to strengthen the hands of Rahul Gandhi and save this nation. Mr. Rahul Gandhi was India’s young leader and was appreciated by Kalaignar for his fighting spirit and unwavering commitment to ideology.”

I am mentioning this to point out that it was all hunky-dory between the DMK and Congress. Till last week when the results of local body polls in Tamil Nadu created a storm, pushing the alliance into choppy waters. Tamil Nadu Congress president KS Alagiri and Legislature party leader KR Ramasamy minced no words in sending a message across to the DMK. Their statement read : “Of the 27 district panchayat chief posts, not even one, not even that of a vice president has been given to us so far. We regret to inform this is against coalition dharma. Same was the case with panchayat union posts where the party has been allotted just two of the 303 posts.”

Not surprisingly, Stalin did not take kindly to the aggressive posturing. The DMK which performed beyond expectations in the local body polls, found it hard to digest that two Congress councillors voted in favour of AIADMK candidate in Pudukottai which swung the pendulum in favour of the ruling party. But for Congress cross-voting, DMK and ADMK would have had 13 district panchayats each. Now ADMK holds 14 district panchayats and DMK 12. 

What followed was bigger. The DMK boycotted the all-party meeting called by the Congress in New Delhi against CAA. A contrast to his position on 23 December 2019, when Stalin has warned of intensifying the anti-CAA protest if the “draconian” law was not withdrawn.

Having taken a categorical stand against the CAA, the decision to boycott an important meet against CAA in which most of the opposition parties took part, raised eyebrows. DMK’s Parliamentary party leader TR Baalu was present in Delhi but chose to stay away from the meeting. 

What’s worse is that the DMK position since then has not been too positive. Baalu, responding to a query on whether the DMK-Congress alliance would continue said, “Time will tell”. DMK Treasurer Duraimurugan was more forthright.

“If they leave the alliance, let them go. What is the harm? We are not bothered if the Congress goes out of the alliance, in particular, I am not concerned,” he said.

When asked about the vote share of the Congress, Duraimurugan quipped in his inimitable style, “No, not at all. Only if Congress have a vote share, our votes will get reduced.”

But Duraimurugan’s statement is far from reality. Though the DMK alliance defied the national trend and decimated the ADMK-BJP alliance in the state by winning 37 of 38 constituencies for which elections were held, Kathir Anand (Duraimurugan’s son) just about scraped through in the Vellore Lok Sabha seat in the byelection held four months later, by a margin of just 8000-odd votes. The fact is that without the Congress votes, Kathir would have lost. 

Many inside the DMK feel that Congress is given more than it deserves and argue if Congress had not been 41 seats in the 2016 assembly polls, DMK would have formed the government. But the fact is that the votes polled by the Congress in those assembly segments in 2014 lok Sabha polls (when they contested alone) were far more than the victory margin of DMK in at least 30 constituencies. 

DMK seems to be in no mood to patch up in spite of Alagiri coming up with repeated clarifications. Congress MP Karti Chidambaram quickly took to twitter to react to Duraimurugan.  He questioned, “Why did not this wisdom dawn before the Vellore parliamentary bye-election?”

DMK insiders say there is more to the squabble than it meets the eye. Following the attack on JNU students, DMK MPs Kanimozhi and Tiruchy Siva visited the injured students and expressed their solidarity.  Kanimozhi addressed the protesting crowd in Shaheen Bhagh. 

A couple of days later, DMK scion and Youth Wing Secretary Udhayanidhi Stalin visited JNU and met the students. Following this visit, efforts were made to set up a meeting for Udhayanidhi with Congress leaders in Delhi and create a photo-op which did not materialise. This too reportedly irked Stalin and he was upset that Congress leaders did not give the deserved welcome to his son. 

Senior Congress leader Peter Alphonse struck a conciliatory note. Speaking to FilterKaapiLive, he said, “The national party leaders, Dravidian party leaders and Left party leaders should understand one thing. The situation that prevailed before 1947 is repeating.  It is not a question of one party wins and one party loses. The country is facing a fascist challenge to defeat our democracy, social justice, our constitution and freedom.  This is a time for all democratic parties to unite and protect the constitution and our nation.” 

A senior DMK leader said, “DMK President Stalin is a leader who respects ‘coalition dharma’. He consults the alliance partners on every move he makes on common issues.  He never thrusts his decision on alliance partners. But KS Alagiri charging the DMK with not following ‘coalition dharma’ is a straight insult to the party.”

The DMK leaders believe that if the behaviour of TNCC went unchallenged, this could lead to more trouble during the 2021 assembly elections. At the same time, they say their boycott of the anti-CAA meet did not mean the party’s stand was diluted. 

The 2021 assembly elections are very crucial for the DMK. With the party out of power for close to nine years now and the BJP portraying it as an anti-Hindu party and trying to divide the Tamil Nadu electorate on religious lines, the ball is in Stalin’s court – both to emerge as a strong regional leader and statesman and also prove his mettle both in Tamil Nadu and at the national level.  It is time for Stalin to prove his mettle as a senior leader by taking alliance partners with him and settle all minor frictions amicably.

(The views expressed in the column are that of the author)

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